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Tax Preparation Software

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There's a wide range of software to choose from for preparing a personal income tax return in the United States. Tax software programs vary in features, price, whether they are downloaded to the desktop or accessed through a Web site. Below are brief evaluations of tax software based on our testing and rating method.

1040.com Free File Edition

3 stars. Efficient, though not glitzy, 1040.com's help functions are pretty decent, the error check caught a data entry error, and we were able to jump from one part of the tax software to another part when needed. Offers free extensions.
Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less, and age 52 or younger.
State returns cost $19.95.

1040NOW Free File Edition

2.5 stars. 1040NOW provides an excellent summary of new tax changes for 2013, however the software's interface and navigation flow can be confusing in places.
Free for federal use:
  • Either (1) adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less and residing in the states of AL, AZ, AR, CA, GA, ID, IN, IA, KY, MI, MN, MS, MO, NY, NC, ND, OK, OR, RI, SC, VT, VA or WV;
  • Or (2) adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less, and age 60 or younger, and residing in the states of CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, KS, LA, ME, MD, MA, MT, NE, NJ, NM, OH, PA, UT or WI.
State returns cost $17.95.

EfileTaxReturns Free File Edition

3 stars. EFileTaxReturns has a nicely designed interface with contextual help, and it's easy to navigate to different parts of the software. The software checks for errors at the end of the tax preparation process.
Free for federal use: adjusted gross income between $4,000 and $58,000 and reside in any state except AK, FL, NV, SD, TN, TX, WA and WY.
State returns cost $24.95.

eSmart Tax

2.5 stars eSmart Tax Premium is a fully functional tax preparation software. The lack of help content and tax optimizing tools makes this product a good choice only for people who have a good working knowledge of taxes or feel comfortable looking up tax information outside of the software program.
Version tested: Premium.
Cost: $49.95 Federal + $29.95 State.
Time: 2 Hours.

eSmartTax Free File Edition

2 stars. eSmart Tax provides a fine experience for taxpayers with relatively simple tax situations. The software's help functions are limited to providing answers to eleven commons questions. However, we were not able to complete our sample tax return due to an error message relating to rental income that we couldn't resolve. So, it's not recommended for landlords with rental properties.
Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less and between the ages of 18 and 54.
State tax returns cost $19.95.

ezTaxReturn Free File Edition

3 stars. EZ Tax Return is really great software for the intermediate to more advanced user as the worksheet-based data input screens minimize clicking and speed up the tax preparation process. The limited help content, however, makes EZ Tax Return more difficult for the casual user.
Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less and resides in AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, GA, IL, LA, MA, MD, MI, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, VA, or WI.
State returns cost $19.95.

FileYourTaxes Free File Edition

2.5 stars. FileYourTaxes checks for errors after each data input screen and can file extensions. However, the software's navigation may be particularly frustrating for some people.
Free for federal use: adjusted gross income between $9,000 and $58,000 and are between the age of 16 and 69.
State returns cost $24.50.

Free 1040 Tax Return Free File Edition

2.5 stars. Free 1040 Tax Return is fully functional tax software. The software's interface and navigation made the tax preparation process feel confusing, even though in the end we found where to enter all our data. The software does not provide any review functions and offers limited help content. Free 1040 Tax Return is suited for people who are already familiar with how to prepare tax returns.
Free for federal use: adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less, are age 71 or younger, and residing in any state except FL, NH, NV, SD, TN and TX.
State returns cost $14.95, $19.95, or $24.95.

FreeTaxUSA Free File Edition

3.5 stars. FreeTaxUSA earned high marks for its help features, good use of screen space, and review functions. The software's Support Center and Tax Help Menu really make it shine in user-friendliness.
Free for federal use: between the age of 17 and 75, with adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less, and reside in any state except AK, FL, NV, NH, SD, TN, TX, WA and WY.
State returns cost $12.95

H&R Block At Home

3 stars. H&R Block At Home is functional tax preparation software. At Home offers a clean interface consisting of questions and answers along with input sheets. An H&R Block employee will attend an audit with you if your return gets audited under H&R Block's Worry Free Audit Support. H&R Block At Home lacks planning features found in other software programs.
Version tested: Premium.
Cost: $74.99 Federal + $39.99 State.
Time: about an hour and a half.

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